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(1) How hath the Lord . . .—The second dirge follows the pattern of the first, opening with a description of the sufferings of Jerusalem, (Lamentations 2:1-10), and closing with a dramatic soliloquy spoken as by the daughter of Zion (Lamentations 2:11-22).
The image that floats before the poet’s mind is that of a dark thunder-cloud breaking into a tempest, which overthrows the “beauty of Israel,” sc. the Temple (Isaiah 64:11), or, as in 2 Samuel 1:19, the heroes who defended it. The footstool is, as in 1 Chronicles 28:2; Psalms 99:5, the ark of the covenant, which was involved in the destruction of the Temple. The “Lord” is, as before, Adonai, not Jehovah.
(2) The habitations of Jacob . . .—The term is used primarily for the dwellings of shepherds, and it accordingly stands here for the open unwalled villages as contrasted with the fortified towns that are here mentioned.
He hath polluted the kingdom.—See Psalms 89:39. The term involves the thought that it had been a consecrated thing. It had become unclean, first through the sins, and then through the defeat and degradation, of its rulers.
(3) All the horn of Israel . . .—The horn, as elsewhere (1 Samuel 2:1; Psalms 92:10; Psalms 112:9), is the symbol of strength, aggressive or defensive, and may therefore stand here for every element of strength, warriors, rulers, fortresses.
He burned against Jacob.—Better, And He kindled a burning; i.e., was as one who applies the torch.
(4) He stood with his right hand . . .—The point of the phrase is that the “right hand,” the natural symbol of divine power, which had been of old stretched forth to protect, was now seen shooting the arrows and wielding the sword of vengeance.
Slew all that were pleasant . . .—Better, “Destroyed ail that was pleasant,” the destruction including not only warriors and youths, but everything dear and precious.
The tabernacle . . .—Not the Temple, but the city itself as the habitation of the people, who are collectively represented as “the daughter of Zion.”
(5) Her palaces: . . . his strong holds . . .—The change of gender is remarkable, probably rising from the fact that the writer thought of the “palaces” in connection with the “daughters of Zion,” and of the “strong holds” in connection with the land or people. A like combination is found in Hosea 8:14.
Mourning and lamentation.—The two Hebrew nouns are formed from the same root, and have an assonance like “the sorrow and sighing” of Isaiah 35:10.
(6) He hath violently taken away his tabernacle . . .—The noun represents a “booth” or “shed,” like those erected in the Feast of Tabernacles. Jehovah is represented as laying waste that “tabernacle,” i.e., His own temple, as a man might remove a temporary shed from an orchard or garden.
His places of the assembly.—The noun is the same as that rendered “solemn feasts” in the next clause. The destruction involved the non-observance of all such feasts, as well as of the sabbath. “King and priest,” the two representatives of the nation’s life (Jeremiah 33:21), were alike, as it seemed, rejected.
(7) Hath cast off . . . hath abhorred.—The two verbs are used in a like context in Psalms 89:38.
His sanctuary.—The word points to the Holy of Holies, and “the walls of her palaces” are therefore those of the Temple rather than of the city.
They have made a noise.—The shouts of the enemies in their triumph, perhaps even the shouts of their worship, had taken the place of the hallelujahs of the “solemn feast.”
(8) He hath stretched out a line.—The phrase implies (See Notes on 2 Kings 21:13; Isaiah 34:11; Amos 7:7) the systematic thoroughness of the work of destruction.
He made the rampart.—Even the very stones of the walls of Zion are thought of as “crying out” and wailing over their own downfall. (Comp. Habakkuk 2:11; Luke 19:40.)
(9) Her gates . . .—The picture of ruin is completed. The gates are broken, and hidden by heaps of rubbish as if they had been buried in the earth; they cannot be closed, for the bars are gone. King and princes are captives to the Chaldæans. The Law was practically repealed, for the conditions of its observance were absent, and prophecy had become a thing of the past. The outward desolation was but the shadow of that of the nation’s spiritual life.
(10) The elders of the daughter of Zion . . .—The despondency of the people is indicated by the outward signs of woe. Instead of taking counsel for the emergency, the elders sit, like Job’s friends (Job 2:11-13), as if the evil were inevitable. The maidens, who had once joined with timbrels and dances in festive processions, walk to and fro with downcast eyes.
(11) My liver is poured upon the earth . . .—The phrase is not found elsewhere, but admits of an easy explanation. The “liver,” like the “heart” and the “bowels,” is thought of as the centre of all intense emotions, both of joy or sorrow (Proverbs 7:23). As such it is represented as giving way without restraint (comp. Lamentations 2:19), under the pressure of the horror caused by the calamities which the next words paint, by the starving children who fainted for hunger in the streets of the city.
(12) They say . . .—The words seem to paint what was actually passing before the writer’s eye, but may be the vivid present which represents the past. The children cried for food, and their mothers had none to give them. They were like wounded men at their last gasp, and breathed out their life as they clung in their despair to their mothers’ breasts.
(13) What thing shall I take to witness . . .—Practically the question is the same as that which follows, and implies that there was no parallel to the sufferings of Zion in the history of the past. Had there been, and had it been surmounted, it might have been cited in evidence, and some consolation might have been derived from it. As it was there was no such parallel, no such witness. Her “breach,” i.e., her ruin, was illimitable as the ocean, and therefore irremediable.
(14) Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things.—The words are eminently characteristic of Jeremiah, whose whole life had been spent in conflict with the false prophets (Jeremiah 2:8; Jeremiah 5:13; Jeremiah 6:13; Jeremiah 8:10; Jeremiah 14:14; Jeremiah 28:9, and elsewhere), who spoke smooth things, and prophesied deceit. They did not call men to repent of their iniquity.
False burdens.—The noun is used, as in Jeremiah 23:33, with a touch of irony, as being that in which the false prophets delighted. What they uttered, however, as a vision of God, did not tend to restoration, but was itself a “cause of banishment,” and tended to perpetuate and aggravate the miseries of exile.
(15) All that pass by.—The triumphant exultation of the enemies of Zion came to add bitterness to her sorrows. They reminded her of what she had been in the past, and contrasted it with her present desolation.
The perfection of beauty . . .—Like phrases are used of Zion in Psalms 48:2; Psalms 50:2; of Tyre in Ezekiel 27:3. Now that beauty was turned into squalor and desolation.
(16) All thine enemies.—The exultation of the enemies is expressed by every feature in the physiognomy of malignant hate, the wide mouth, the hissing, the gnashing of the teeth. They exult, as in half-broken utterances, in the thought that they have brought about the misery at which they mock. It is what they had long looked for; they had at last seen it.
(17) The Lord hath done . . .—The writer points, in opposition to the boasts of the enemies, to the true author of the misery of the people. In that thought, terrible as it might at first seem, there was an element of hope. It was better to fall into the hands of God than into those of men (2 Samuel 24:14). The suffering came as a chastisement for past transgressions, and might therefore be mitigated by repentance. The Destroyer was also the Healer, and would answer the prayers of those who called on Him.
(18) Their heart.—The possessive pronoun does not refer to any immediate antecedent, but points, with a wild abruptness, to the mourners of Zion. Yet more boldly their cry is an appeal to the “wall” of Zion (comp. Lamentations 2:8, and Isaiah 14:31), to take up its lamentation, as though it were a human mourner.
Like a river.—Better, like a torrent.
The apple of thine eye.—Literally, “the daughter,” as in the English phrase, the “pupil” of the eye.
(19) In the beginning of the watches—i.e., of each watch, so that the lamentation was continued throughout the night.
Lift up thy hands.—The wall is still addressed in its character as a mourner, beholding the children dying of hunger and lifting up her hands as in despairing supplication for them.
(20) To whom thou hast done this—i.e., not to a heathen nation, but to the people whom Jehovah Himself had chosen.
Shall the women eat their fruit.—Atrocities of this nature had been predicted in Leviticus 26:26; Deuteronomy 28:57; Jeremiah 19:9. They were, indeed, the natural incidents of a besieged city reduced to starvation, as in the case of Samaria (2 Kings 6:28), and the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans (Jos., B. J. v. 12), and had been witnessed, as the words show, in that by the Chaldæans. (Comp., as to the famine, Ezekiel 4:16-17; Ezekiel 5:16.)
Shall the priest . . .—Stress is laid on this as being the next element of horror. The very Holy of Holies was profaned with the blood of the priests and prophets of Jehovah.
(21) The young and the old . . .—The thoughts of the mourner turn from the massacre in the sanctuary to the slaughter which did its dread work in every corner of the city.
(22) Thou hast called . . .—Better, Thou hast summoned, as for a solemn feast-day. (Comp. Lamentations 1:15.) In “terrors round about” we have a characteristic phrase of Jeremiah’s (Jeremiah 6:25; Jeremiah 20:3; Jeremiah 20:10). The LXX., followed by some commentators, gives the rendering, “Thou hast summoned . . . my villages,” but on no sufficient grounds.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Lamentations 2". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17